How’s the action set up on your guitars?

I use what would be considered a medium action for acoustic guitar. I use gauge .13 thru .56, pretty heavy for a rocker, but it’s really not for a grasser. Bluegrass players like high action and the heavier strings are okay for them. What it does for me, when using open tuning – chordal tuning – is that gauge really opens up the sound of the guitar. You get a lot more harmonics and overtones, which enables you to get a more complex sound.

What tunings do you get into?

I have a lot of tunings I use, but at a gig it’s anywhere from five to eight. It depends upon the set list and what we’re doing that night.

Are there any particular tunings you like more than others?

I’d put them more in a group. I like the slack key tunings – the Spanish tunings, like G and D. I love the elasticity of the sound and the feel it gives you. The notes elongate just a little more. They really sink into each note. I love that, like in Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom.” D is just the blues key I think. For some of the more complicated things, the higher tunings like E and A, for example, the fingering is all the same from E to D. The fingering positions are the same for A and G. However, it’s a higher sound because the harmonics are different, there’s more tension and it just gives it more of an edge for tunes that rock a bit more. And F minor, or various tunings in minor keys, I love those. Some of my favorite tunings are minor, and I’ve always felt that the minor blues is about the most beautiful sound there is.

You played at Clapton’s Crossroads festival last summer.

Yes, we did. We were the first ones to come out the chute, man – 12 o’clock noon. We had been up most of the night before, playing a late night gig and we were ready to rock at noon. [laughs] It was just a real huge moment for me when Eric Clapton came out and sat in with us – that was about the greatest affirmation for me. He was one of my original guitar heroes. That’s why I wanted him on the new album, too. It was really exciting and we’d been playing a lot so the band was on. As a group we felt really good. It was crazy because it’s always by the seat of your pants at any festival oriented gig. The crew and all were fantastic, but it’s just great to play live and be around all those amazing musicians.

Playing Behind the Slide: An Interview with Sonny Landreth
Photo: ©2007 Tim Mosenfelderon
You played with John Mayall for a while.

Actually, I worked on his album,A Sense of Place, in 1990. On that project I met my future co-producer, Bobby Field – R. S. Field. And that was another one. I was a huge John Mayall, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck fan. Way back I’d listen to their music, so I was really honored to get to do that. He was great to work with and the fact that he did a couple of my songs was a huge honor as well.

He got a lot of wear out of “Congo Square.”

Yeah, that’s the one most covered by people.

On your new one, From the Reach, were the tracks all done correspondently?

Not all, but just about all of them. The way I put it to everyone was that I’d do whatever they wanted. Of course, they were invited to come to South Louisiana or I would go to them with the tracks – however they wanted to do it; at home and send it back to me. In most cases, that’s what they did and I had anticipated that. They had all been on heavy touring schedules and were finally home. That way they got to go to their studio with their engineer. So my job, as producer, was to use the Pro Tools technology and capture the moment emotionally. The beauty of this format was that we’d mix as we’d go.

I was able to send each artist the exact mix we were working with. I think that really helped. The twist on this project that was different from other collaborations or guest albums is that I wrote the songs for each of the guests to play on. I hoped to open the door enough because of my intense familiarity with their styles. I’m so into their playing and that helped me as a songwriter to gear towards that. But at the same time, I hoped to keep my own foot in the home soil. And it was as much a tribute to them for me – that’s how I felt about it. That excited me as a songwriter. I was told I was in a lot of trouble, labels getting in the way. They said they wanted to do it and then the red tape; blah blah blah. But it went without a hitch. Everyone was so great about wanting to do this and as their performances came back, it was just so obvious. I was totally blown away by all the performances.

I like the first Clapton contribution, “When I Still Had You.” And as you had mentioned, it’s a lot like the current Clapton style. It’s amazing the way in which the two of you go back and forth. There’s quite a lot going on in there. The second one, the bluesy thing, is good too.

Yeah! I was thinking I’d go through it and maybe use one solo. But then I thought, “Man, I ain’t gonna deny the world any Eric Clapton solos,” so I kept it all on there. [laughs] I thought it would be cool to take a song that represented his pop era, in a way, but it would have a hook and then go from that into a kind of guitar jam. I tried to be adventurous with it.